LABELS: Opus Arte
PERFORMER: Simon O’Neill, Gerald Finley, René Pape, Angela Denoke, Willard White, Robert Lloyd; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano; dir. Stephen Langridge (London, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: OA BD7159 D; Blu-ray: OA 1158 D
This latest production at Covent Garden of Wagner’s last and greatest work is no more successful than the previous three were. Alas, nowadays Blu-ray and DVD ensure that almost nothing on the operatic stage disappears into oblivion as fast as it should. Stephen Langridge, like many contemporary directors, clearly decided that Wagner got his own drama wrong. At present the words and the music are allowed to remain as Wagner wrote them, but the action bears little relationship to them, and in salient ways sharply contradicts what Wagner intended.
The drama is re-located in the present, mainly in a hospital room in which the suffering Amfortas, sung and acted with the greatest distinction by Gerald Finley, writhes while orderlies inject him with painkillers and fix up a drip-feed. The knights of the Grail are in contemporary grey suits. The only recognisably Wagnerian figure is the bald Kundry, who sprouts differently coloured hair in the remaining acts. The cast is impressive, but in the event René Pape as Gurnemanz makes little of his wonderful music. Parsifal is Simon O’Neill, uneven, sometimes moving, as at the end, sometimes dramatically inert. Angela Denoke is always striking as Kundry, but doesn’t really have a large enough voice for the demanding role. The minor roles are well taken. And the orchestra covers itself with glory, tirelessly magnificent for all 270 minutes. Unfortunately Antonio Pappano is not a great Wagner conductor: he is marvellous over any ten-minute period, but the vast span of the work defeats him, and there is a lack of tension, so that the quietly overwhelming Act III signals no culmination.